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found poem: the fiction

found poem: the immediate


the Italian lightShe took socks from the drawer and shoes from beneath a chair. There was no closet in the room, just the bureau. Her blouses and jackets and scarves were a bazaar of color where they hung from a row of hooks behind the door. The bureau was covered with paper: books, sketchpads, journals, maps, envelopes and a blizzard of scraps scrawled with her handwriting. A few had drifted onto the floor and she turned her head to see what she had written on one, a deposit slip. Why had she brought her checkbook to Italy, she wondered? She had written a single line of dialogue on the small piece of paper:

‘Buona sera, Senor,’ she said, ‘may I take your clothes?’
She did.


opening the doorThat morning, when she opened her bedroom door, she saw that the hall — its length pierced by other doors, its floor a long tongue of honey-colored oak — had disappeared. Standing on the threshold, her hand still clutching the door knob, she glanced quickly over her shoulder. But the bedroom was morning-ordinary: rumpled bedcovers, last night’s clothes draped over the chair, a hint of sun skimming the curtains…

the suggestion box…

suggestion boxShe turned the key and flicked open the ridiculous padlock, raised the lid. As if someone might want to steal the contents. As if it said Money on the outside. She leaned over to peer inside. She always did this now, after the one time with the frog. But there was little to see. A couple of pieces of paper, a paper clip, a — what was that? — piece of gum? She reached into the box, gathered the meager contents, glanced in again, then lowered the lid and locked it up.

It had been part of the employee-empowerment mandate and nearly all that was left to show of the company’s lavish investment in the Consultant. Oh at first it had been great: the box stuffed with suggestions, some pure fantasy, of course, but some really practical, sensible, simple. She was emptying the box every other day back then. Smoothing out the folded papers, slipping them into plastic sleeves in the special, consultant-stocked three-ring binder that sat on the credenza in the CEO’s office.

But it didn’t take long for people to realize that Management was averse to suggestions, incapable of change. The consultant was window dressing, the expense resented as salaries stagnated and layoffs loomed. Then the box became a joke, and she, somehow, the messenger, caught between employees and executive in this distasteful ritual.

She trashed the gum, washed her hands and carried the rest to her desk. Three little notes. It had become a bit of a game, deciding which one to open first, trying to figure out which of the nearly 200 employees had deposited the note in the box on the wall outside the lunchroom door. She unfolded one: “Need brighter light over the back door. Can’t see the keypad.” That was a good idea, easy enough. She’d take care of it.

The second one was piece of copier paper that had been folded and re-folded until it was a little square about an inch on a side. It felt like a clenched jaw, seemed to vibrate with frustration. She smoothed it flat. Printed in pencil, in the middle of the sheet, were the words, “Im pregnent.” She set the note aside. She’d have to think about it, about who might have written it, whether she could help.

The third note was a piece of ivory letterhead folded twice. She unfolded it. It was the personal stationery of the executive VP, whose office was in the other facility. She saw him rarely, but they had chatted a few times in the lunchroom. She recognized his signature at the bottom. It was a letter — typed, formal, addressed to her. “Dear Ms. _____,” it began, “This is a bit awkward and I hope you will not take offense at my roundabout approach. But I know you carry the suggestion box key on your key ring and I know you will be the one to open this note. As you may have heard, I will be leaving the company soon. I’ve accepted a position with another firm and will start there after a short vacation. I am writing this note, after much deliberation, to tell you that in the seven years I have worked here, you have been the one bright light of my employment. I wonder whether, once we are no longer co-workers, you would consider going out to dinner with me?”

She touched her mouth, as if to keep the surprise, the pleasure, the smile, from leaping out. Bright light, she thought, noticing the parallel.

the invitation…

wedding dress brunchLooking for the Sunday paper, which might be clutched in the fronds of a low shrub, I find instead this scrap of an invitation delivered 24 years too late, almost to the day. Wilted and damp, it has blown from someone’s recycling bin to tell me a story.

The quote ladies end quote arrive at the church in their wedding gowns, which are, perhaps, a bit snug now. Grass stains on the train, petticoats torn, buttons missing at the wrist, the shoes long gone or impossibly tight. A few seed pearls from the embroidered bodice left at home, rolling in the bottom of the trunk like lost hopes.

The “ladies” step from their cars, carefully, slightly embarrassed but also excited to be part of this merry confusion of brides. They glance at each other through their veils, shyly at first — “Is that you, Barbara?” — then gather their skirts and hurry to the social hall, which smells of bacon and old bibles. They admire one another, touching bits of lace with gloved fingers, turning to display a now-plump shoulder, a row of 23 (“That’s how young I was!”) tiny satin buttons from nape to waist. From draw-string bags at their wrists, they pull small wedding portraits and gasp at themselves almost impossibly young, at the perfection of their dresses and their innocence.

The room swagged with ribbon and styrofoam wedding bells, the round tables decorated with white mums and daisies and a profusion of silver cherubs, the brides seat themselves, a foaming tide of skirts filling the space beneath each table. There’s some throat-clearing and then, as if to offer a toast, the pastor, that token husband to them all, rises to lead them in prayer. Gloved hands folded beneath bowed heads, they pray, almost forgetting, for a moment, who they are. Their voices whisper, together, “Amen.”

Then, with a rustling like feathers, they raise their veils, shuck their gloves, and tuck into the scrambled eggs, hash browns, syrupy pancakes, toast and bacon mounded on the plates before them. Mouths full, they chirp and chatter, wondering to themselves whether their fragile seams and buttons will hold for just one more memorable day, and why they’re here, and who will be the first to cry.


vintage Krizia wolf sweaterWith her accession to office power, Beverly’s wardrobe suddenly improved. She had always been stylish and well put-together, but now her clothing screamed fashion, money.

She was accessorized to the minute, from her beautiful earrings to her gorgeous high heels. She had a lavish — and growing — collection of silk blouses, sweaters and jackets that featured tigers, panda bears and other megafauna — clothing of the moment we had seen, priced in four figures, during our lunchtime window-shopping along Rodeo Drive. She submitted herself to the frequent ministrations of hairdressers, facialists, masseurs and other artists of personal care she deemed essential to her position.

Like an exotic bird, she preened. Drab hens, the rest of us speculated about fabulously wealthy ex-husbands, family money and “favors” that might allow her to thus augment her wardrobe on a secretary’s salary…
Krizia sweater

A Bowl of Words…fragment

“What would you do?” Laura asked Paul.
“Do? You mean if I wanted to kill myself?”
“I don’t know, Dr. Kevorkian, is this a multiple-choice question?”
“Yes, of course it is. But seriously, haven’t you ever thought about it? I mean not actually thinking that you would do it, but, you know, just thinking about it?”
“Yeah, I guess. But mostly when it’s in the news — Vince Foster or Kurt Cobain.” Paul was quiet for a moment, then said, “When I was a teenager I was pretty pissed off for a while and used to think that I would kill myself and really show my parents what small-minded tyrants they had been. It was always a gun — just a neat hole in the temple — and my father would barge into my room screaming at me for some petty infraction of the rules and there I’d be, on the bed, cold and dead. And he’d collapse and never be the same, and my mother would come in and cradle my lifeless body in her arms and finally have to be pried away. You know, teenage angst. It didn’t come to me in so many words, but even then I could see the difference between wanting to be dead and wanting revenge. I didn’t want to be dead; what I wanted was to put on this drama and watch it unfold and really bask in it and then jump up and say, ‘Just kidding!’ I wanted to hurt them.”
“What changed?” Laura asked.
“When I went to help my uncle rebuild after the tornado. Spent a couple of months swinging a hammer and after that I was different, and my parents seemed different too, though it’s hard to say who really changed. Took my mind off revenge, anyway…”

more fragments from A Bowl of Words

A Bowl of Words…fragment

…Slowly, as Laura dressed and went downstairs, other names slipped into her awareness — Marilyn, Sylvia Plath — and then other deaths — needles and airplanes and car crashes that had preserved a famous face in perpetual youth — Janis, Jimmy Hendrix, Buddy Holly. That list was too long, she thought, and death was too big a word for one day.

“You look far away,” Paul said, finding her at the kitchen table with nothing but a cup of coffee in front of her. “What’s the word, mockingbird?”
Suicide,” she said.
“Ouch. Larry’s mom, in the bathtub, with a gun. Sounds like we’re playing Clue.”
“A gun?” she asked. “Guns aren’t typically the weapons of choice for women.”
“Yeah. I don’t know. It was a mess. Larry found her.”
“Oh,” Laura groaned. “Was she sick?”
“Yeah. No. I’m not sure. She had something. But after Larry’s brother died, she was never the same. She tried to put together some semblance of a normal life, but he was her baby and she never did come back all the way. Obviously.”
“Who else?” she asked.
“Isn’t this a fun breakfast conversation,” he said, used to the serious turn their days might take. “Would you like to ruminate on some granola?”
“Sure. Banana, no raisins.”
“No thanks.”
“What would you do?” Laura asked Paul…

more fragments from A Bowl of Words

the note…

noteShe stared at the two penciled words stretching across the piece of paper, the handwriting not refined but each letter fully formed, solidly connected to the next. “You’re beautiful,” it said, a wide-eyed smiley face the only punctuation. The two words floated, independent, the first centered and straight, the second angled broadly across the middle of the paper as if to underline its meaning, though there was no line.

They were written on the flap of a banking deposit envelope, torn off at the perforations. She recognized the handwriting, though it was writing she seldom saw. She knew who had written it; she only could not remember when or where he had left it for her. She tried to picture it: lying on his pillow, propped in front of the phone, stuck in the refrigerator along side the half-and-half — all of those find-it-in-the-morning places. But none of the images looked familiar and she couldn’t be certain. She only knew it was from another era of her life, perhaps a quarter-century ago. No, she corrected, just 25 years — that was long enough; one need not mention centuries.

She had found it tucked into the pages of a journal, the writing on the pages revealing nothing. Just this note, this reminder, which cheered her a bit, to think, to remember, to imagine that someone had found her beautiful, one time, and she pinned it to her bulletin board, smiling back at the silly little round-eyed face.

village lane…

gelatoThe village perched atop a hill, at the end of a long, narrow cypress-lined drive that twisted upward. They parked the Vespa outside the gate and turned to look back at all of Tuscany, fields in blocks of green and sienna, hilltops fortressed with villas.

Walking hand in hand through the high arch, they entered the cobblestoned lane lined with shops. Even in this tiny village, the shop windows and open doors were lush with their rows of jars and bottles, prosciutto, cheese, ceramics, jewelry and multi-hued mounds of gelato. Except at noon, when the high sun beat directly down, the small street was in shade, cool on the hottest days. The shutters on the upper floors were thrown open to catch the angled light, here and there a shirt, blinding white, hung to dry on the rail of a slender balcony. The cobblestones were scrubbed and glossy with centuries of wear.

An ancient woman dressed in black, her cane in one hand, her small string bag of groceries in the other, stopped at a closed door, shifted her parcel, opened the door and disappeared inside, the door shutting silently behind her, the air erasing the memory of where she had stood just a moment ago.

The sun pooled at the end of the street, where the buildings opened out into the piazza and they strolled toward the promise of its warmth.

fragments…Lark, 2

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. Lark did not try to remember her mother. She did not reminisce. Her past was a phantom. There existed only the scrolling loop of the present — her pale hands, her broad feet in the brown scuffs, the green dress she put on each morning.

The food mounded on the Melmac plate incited no yearning. The setting sun through the wired glass was not a metaphor.

Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. There were sometimes names: her own, Ginger, Elton. These she sang in her perfect alto to the tune of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, the syllables fitting neat and senseless into the nursery rhyme melody.

There was also the singing bird, its song raising goose bumps on her arms as it warbled up through the bird’s yellow throat. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten. It had not always been like this.
Western Meadowlark photo by Alan D. Wilson, Nature’s Pics Online


dictionaryThey lived together in companionable affection. It was never love, though certainly she wanted it to be. He went off to paint houses, she went to graduate school. He came home and drank beer, she came home and baked bread. They were often stoned.

When his buddies showed up at dinner time, she kept cooking until there was enough — for five, or eight, or ten. There was always fresh bread, and its perfume.

Her floor loom was the largest piece of furniture in the living room. The windows, facing onto the side yard, had no shades, but shelves of houseplants suspended in front of them curtained the glass with their cascade of green.

There were two dogs, then one, and the turtles, and the row of five-gallon aquariums in the midnight-blue bedroom with the enormous, sloshing waterbed.

He drove a hearse, a mini, a Divco truck, a Nash Metropolitan, a Vespa with a sidecar. She drove a VW bug. He smoked cigarettes. She read books.

When she pulled the dictionary off the shelf to look up a word one day, three hundred dollars fluttered from its pages onto the floor. He had finally found a use for a book.

He was willing to be content. She was looking for something. They broke up.


hotel hallwayThey have never met, will never meet, but the threads of their lives knit together row upon row. The accident of conferences, interviews, exhibitions, brings them from their distant homes to this place, or another, yet keeps them strangers to each other. This once, by chance, they occupy adjoining rooms in the hotel.

In his, daytime TV flashes its soundless images and his laptop sits open on the small desk. His clothes, just enough for the meeting, the dinner, the night and the trip home, are hung in the closet or placed neatly in the large drawer below the television. His small carry-on suitcase stands in the closet between a single pair of shoes and an ironing board. The curtains are closed. The bed is untouched, the little card with instructions about saving water still propped against the pillow. He sits in the single chair talking on his cell phone.

In hers, every light is on, the curtains are open, and her enormous suitcase yawns empty on the bed. Its contents — clothes, yarn, strips of leather, fabrics, thread, lace, tied packets of letters, rice paper, paste and innumerable cloth envelopes of buttons, shells, words clipped from magazines, doll-house-size furniture, antique bottle caps and garage sale jewelry — she has gathered in her arms and dropped in a heap on the floor. Struggling with the window, which opens only about two inches, she lights a cigarette, blows smoke through the gap and surveys the pile…
photo by Ian Bogost

mi torero…

In her dream, the ground shook beneath the thundering hooves of the bull. The crowd’s voice rose and fell as one. The air vibrated. The cape flashed crimson. Her fingers traced the memory of sequins and embroidered satin. The bull stopped. Turned. Breath was drawn in. Held. The air stilled. Into the silence she whispered, Mi torero.

Her dream shifted. Her fingers traced the scar embroidered in his warm flesh. A warning, he had told her. A close call. The bull was young, and so was I.

The thundering, the roaring, the heat, the vibration, the crimson is in her blood, on her skin. Mi torero, she breathed, mi torero.

the shoes…

black shoesDouglas could not recall shopping for shoes. The shoes had lived at the foot of his bed for as long as he could remember, the two identical pairs side by side, black oxfords, polished to a deep gloss. He supposed his mother must have bought them, must have measured his foot with a glance, replaced each pair when it became hopelessly worn and would no longer take a shine. He always knew which ones to wear, the pair on the left reserved for the holy days.

A man needed only two pairs of shoes. His mother had been firm on this subject and many others. A man must not be concerned with haberdashery, she would say, using that curious word.

But today, as Douglas looked at the two pairs of shoes, even he could see that something was wrong. One shoe was lying on its side, bits of grass stuck to the sole, the toe of its mate crusted with mud. He stood confused at the foot of his bed, looking down, and then over at the door of his bedroom, which stood open as it had last night and every other night of his 33 years…
black shoes


hands on the wheelShe was not without her moods, without her moments of darkness. But yesterday he had watched it come over her like the moon’s shadow racing across the earth before the eclipse. Suddenly she turned angular, electric with some internal force field that narrowed her eyes and caused things to spill from her hands.

He should have let her leave right then, but she didn’t leave, and he watched her turn, hoped she might turn all the way through it, whatever it was, and come all the way round to equilibrium, to him, without bruising or breaks. He reached toward her, but his gentlest touch, his words, his good cheer scraped at her like a rasp. These wounds bled into her forced smile, her turned-away eyes, her clenched fists.

For an hour or two she tied on the half-mask that allowed her to get through dinner, get to class, punch at the spinning mound of clay on the wheel. He tried not to watch her, not to splash her with his own clumsy efforts, to stay out of her way.

But what he wanted was to lift her up, their hands slimy with clay, and draw her in against his chest, still, warm, quiet, until the storm passed.

the beckoning…

whistleEach evening, sometime between 4:30 and 5, the beckoning would start. Usually it was Mrs. Jennewick, who would take three steps out to the carport and call, “Carrr-leee.” Two notes, low-high — a hog call — and you never heard the first syllable unless you were within a few feet of Mrs. J’s aproned torso.

Larry’s mom wore a silver whistle on a piece of string around her neck and would give it a long blast from wherever she happened to be — the kitchen, the backyard, the garage. Larry’s aunt claimed that she was hard of hearing because of the time that Larry’s mom blew the whistle when they were talking on the phone.

My mother had a single call-to-attention that she used for all purposes — getting us to come to wherever she was in the house, saying hello to a neighbor who was walking by, or retrieving me from the neighing bliss of galloping down the street on my invisible horse. Her strident, high-low “hoo-hoo” was an irresistible lure to teasers and mimics. There were kids at school who didn’t know my name, but called me Hoo-Hoo, and one time, for reasons I don’t recall, a teacher came up to me in the hall and said, “You’re Hoo-Hoo, aren’t you?”

I never had any special affection for Carly, but she came in for the same teasing and we were allied in our humiliation — a call and response of “Carrr-leee” and “Hoo-Hoo” threading back and forth across the center aisle of the lumbering yellow school bus.


erased blackboardSomeone had erased the blackboard. Now it was a blur of chalky streaks, the tails of a few letters emerging from the blankness here and there. They hadn’t bothered to clean the eraser first, and a sprinkle of fine white dust littered the chalk tray below the board and the few broken stubs of chalk that populated its length.

She sat in the oak chair, back to the classroom, back to the desk, and considered the gray expanse. The notes carefully taped to the far end, near the door, would offer no clue. She had sought their wisdom before.

The room was still. No whispers or giggles, no shuffling of papers or feet. Only the click click click click of the clock, the second hand erasing time as it crept past each black number.
erased blackboard

fragments…Howard ~ 9

Before he became a middle school teacher, Howard had for a while been a lab assistant for Dr. Carting. Mouse Boy, his friends had called him. Four rows, ten cages per row, one mouse per cage. He had liked the mice, their twitching pink noses and bright whiskers, but the work became tiresome and he suspected he carried around a faint aroma of mouse. So when Dr. Carting said her boyfriend needed a clerk to help him finish his book on the anthropology of circumpolar peoples, Howard took the job.

He proof-read the index and checked the spelling of the unpronounceable names, making innumerable trips to the copier and the library. He studied the soapstone carvings that sat on the shelf above Dr. Alexdrovich’s desk, comparing the information on the tiny labels on their bases to the captions under the photographs in the book. It was tedious, but at least no one called him Mouse Boy, and when the book was published, Howard’s name appeared in the acknowledgments.

After his stint with Dr. A., he went back to school to get his teaching credential. He thought he’d probably teach high school, but soon realized that middle school was where he belonged. He thought of Mr. Turner, who had been such a powerful influence on him when he was in junior high. Don Turner had helped Howard see round his pudginess and glasses to the boy who could wrestle and understand trigonometry. He had urged him to read Shakespeare and Vonnegut, Kesey and Harper Lee. He had guided him through the terrible letter of condolence to Portland’s parents. Mr. Turner had been something solid and parent-like when his own parents seemed not to notice Howard, seemed preoccupied with the twins.

Even now Howard could feel the agony of being 13. Sometimes when he looked at himself in the mirror in the morning, he was surprised to see the face of a grown man looking back at him…

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